A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Railway Paint – and a trip to the Dark Side

Current Humbrol Acrylics

In the days before Humbrol introduced their Military series of enamels – with specific Napoleonic colours and everything – I tried all sorts of ploys to find shades of paint that were otherwise unobtainable. I had an expert acquaintance who used to tell me that I should use artists’ tube colours, and mix my own – the implication being that only a prat would do anything else. [See details of Foy’s Tenth Law for a discussion of this kind of advice.]

I would fix him with the closest thing to a sardonic glance I could muster without a rehearsal, and say something profound, like “wuff wuff”. Apart from the hassle and the mess, the chances of ever getting the same shade twice – maybe even once – convinced this particular prat that a ready-made pot of the shade you actually want takes some beating.

In the pursuit of this, I discovered Humbrol’s very extensive Railway Authentics, which were really useful. I must have a great many patches of colour in my Napoleonic armies today which come from the world of model railways, though the original pots solidified and were ditched decades ago. I recall that for a long time you could not get a decent orange or crimson shade in the standard Humbrol ranges, so I had a pot of an orange paint intended for painting the coachwork lining on railway carriages (company and date unknown), and to this day the pennons of the Vistula Lancers show a deep crimson which started life as LMS Maroon.

One slight issue with the railway colours was that the authenticity extended to the degree of gloss, and they expected you to know what was what. LMS Maroon, for example, was a semi-gloss. At first I used to add Humbrol’s flatting agent to quieten down the shine, but I realised pretty quickly that leaving the paint as it was and applying matt varnish over the top was the way to go. For reasons I cannot remember, I started very early to use Cryla Acrylic matt medium as a glaze, and I am still delighted with it. Forty years down the line, it is as clear and pure as when it went on, which is very much preferable to the subsequent yellowing and crystallization of the solvent-based varnishes I used from time to time. Humbrol’s clear varnish of the day was not a long-term answer to any question at all.

Yesterday I was travelling about a bit, and took the opportunity to visit a branch of a large chain of wargaming model shops, which happens to sell Citadel paints. Not my most comfortable environment, but I thought I’d risk it. First problem was the paint rack – they had both the old and the new names on display, and the stuff was not well enough sorted for me to find my way around it. I was going to ask for some clarification of what the “layer” paints were, so I hovered near the check out for a while.

The young man at the checkout was deep in conversation on his smartphone, enthusing about an army of Darklings[?] a colleague was preparing. That’s right – you guessed correctly – they were awesome. After some five minutes of this, I remembered my new theory that somehow the special lighting in these particular shops does not reflect normally from me, and the young man would not be able to see me. I also realised how humbling it would be to have to ask for an explanation of white paint, so I left quietly, wondering if the CCTV could see me.

I subsequently visited a very large, independent model shop in the same city which sells everything you could think of, apart from Citadel paints. The staff in this shop can see me perfectly, and they are always very focused on the possibility of someone pinching a radio-controlled aircraft or a dolls' house and walking off with it. Anyway, I found the rack of Humbrol railway paints, which are now acrylic, of course, and which still offer an interesting range of unusual shades. I got some plain matt white, and something called RC417 (RC = Rail Colour), which was described on the rack (though not the pot) as “off-white for carriage roofs”. Could be just the thing for ECW stockings and suchlike.

A humble purchase, but I was pleased to renew my acquaintance with railway paints. Really quite nostalgic.


  1. I remember being quite excited by my first pots of Military Colours, the ceremonial British iir, not to mention the joy later at finding out just what colour unbleached wool and lined were. This was of course followed by a period in which I tried to give each barbarian warrior a slightly different shade of wool which rather robbed standard colours of some of their virtue.

    Eventually, only 2 options made sense, a hug collections of hundreds of colours or going back to a minimal palette and mixing my own. I didn't have space or money for the first option and anyway once past 20 pots can never find the one I want when I want it so mixing it was. This led to learning all the reasons (excuses) why 2 chaps in the same regiment might have slightly different shades of red coat but more recently I'm amazed that while I can pick out new figures added to veteran regiments for a short while, the colours are getting closer than I can explain given that I'm not the sort to remember what shades were originally used and before long a bit of handling and dust has settled them in so that I have trouble picking them out.

    Doesn't take the joy out of exploring a new shade that catches my eye though so I've never quite made it to the basic palette.

    1. Having the individual members of a unit in slightly different shades is so awesomely realistic that I had to lie down for a while after I thought about it.

      I'm sure the basic palette approach is really the way to do it, I could just never face the chore of mixing.

  2. It could be worse-I am not invisible in the-chain-that-sells -Citadel -paints. So every time I pop in for their (rather good) spray black primer I am bombarded with questions as to what armies I collect, do I need paint, glue or an Orc or two?

    Awesome that you found your way back to the original paints though, eer, Dude? Mega-karma (who is actually a powerful warlock with a plus 4 modifier....etc).

    1. Now that you bring it up, an Orc or two is just what your armies need. Which reminds me, what was that strange Napoleonic parody thing that was around - Zombies of the Guard and all that? Is that still going? - Flintloque?

    2. It was Flintloque, they had "Sharkes Rifles" and other stuff like that. The British were skeletons I think and the French Orcs???

    3. I'm sure the figure scales wouldn't line up, but it would be hilarious to have a single skeleton in the second row of an otherwise sensible regiment.

      I have a hankering to have a guy in a Barcelona football jersey in my Spanish militia - I enjoy stuff like that. John C told me about a unit he got back from the painter in which one of the soldiers was unmistakeably Hitler. In my old Ancient British army (departed to the Antipodes), one of the Celtic warbands included a man in a green-&-white-hooped Glasgow Celtic jersey (geddit??) - we used to call him Harry Hood, which Wikipedia will show you must have been a long time ago.

      Oh what fun we used to have...

  3. Unfortunately I'm all too visible in those damned stores and seem to attract acne victims like midges. In stead of personal visits, which seem to throw the staff into frenzies akin to Beliebers, I just ask my son-in-law to nip in and get what I want. He's a lecturer and so immune to spotty oiks with no sense of humour and even less sense of personal hygiene.


    1. I think the branch I was in has a policy of discouraging visitors, so that the inmates can get on with whatever it is they do when they are left alone to get on with it.

      Whenever I go in, I am reminded of Quentin Crisp's description of the darts stopping in mid-air when he walked into an East End pub.